The funny thing is, both parties are kind of on the same page: it’s all about getting beyond the temporary Covid-response treatment and towards something more enduring.
On the one hand, Council wants to crack on with the promised vision: a people-friendly transit mall at the heart of the city. Consultation on the next steps is open until this Friday 7 May. Gen Zero has a handy quick submit form that makes it easy to support the project’s vision and ask for improvements for walking, biking, scooting and accessibility.
On the other hand, the Save The Queen Street Society wants to crack on with… putting everything back the way it was before 2020? But reportedly they’ve also suggested “a dedicated lane for bikes and e-scooters.”
And that’s interesting. Because bikes and scooters are practically invisible in the current consultation on upgrades at the bottom end of Queen Street, and I’ve been struggling to work out why.
The proposed changes between Customs St and Shortland St include bus lanes and an ‘improved streetscape’ – which, going by the artist’s impressions, means nicer planters…and some boardwalk extensions, a la High St.
It looks nice, but where will the bikes and scooters go? Ah. In front of the buses, apparently.
Take a look at some pictures from the Sunday of Anzac Weekend, taken over the course of about half an hour.
For the last few months, I thought I was alone in fretting about this. But in the last week, this apparent gap in the thinking has suddenly leapt into public view. Heart of the City pointed it out:
There won’t be safe cycling as bikes will be forced to travel down Queen Street in bus lanes, and there will be a whole lot more buses on Queen Street to contend with over the next few years.
City-watcher Simon Wilson spotted it too:
Council and its agencies have produced a good plan. Sure, it’s a pity they didn’t do it earlier but they’ve done it now.
And sure, it’s not absolutely great. It doesn’t, for example, separate scooters from pedestrians, or cyclists from buses.
I wish I shared Simon’s equanimity:
But it gets most things pretty right and, because it’s a trial, it can be built on. How hard will it really be to turn good into great?
Hard. In fact, quite hard. Think of the political process we’d need to go through! And the footpath extensions and planters will have taken the space that could have/ should have been dedicated to the small-wheelers who throng the street.
Todd Niall captures the constraints – and the categorial muddiness – of the current situation:
The council is creating wider footpaths, pocket paths and public spaces, and Auckland Transport has been given the job of working out how traffic should flow in the space allocated between the kerbs.
The concrete blocks and plastic sticks used to create more pedestrian and cycling space will be replaced with planter boxes.
That’s the thing about the – what do we call it, swing space? scoot space? shared space? free space? – that was created during the early Covid response by marking out a ribbon of road space, protecting it from traffic, and running it up and over the temporary bus platforms. Ever since it was installed, this ambiguous space has been used ambiguously.
On the one hand, it was nominally designed to allow social distancing for walkers, and painted with pedestrian symbols. But as it’s been tweaked and robustified, it’s come to look and feel more and more like the logical missing mode: a protected lane for biking and scooting.
While the separation from live traffic and pedestrians is inviting, the zig-zags around the loading zones are not. No surprise that some people keep biking on the road… and many many people keep scooting on the footpath.
You could even say that every scooter on the footpath and every bike on the road is a failure of design. The point isn’t whether or not people on bikes and scooters have been using the zig zag zone properly, or regularly, or at all. The point is that there are and will always be people scooting and biking on Queen Street – regardless of how inadequate the safety design is!
Any design for Queen Street needs to protect the two-wheelers from traffic, and protect pedestrians from the two-wheelers. Otherwise, it’s dangerously skirting its Vision Zero responsibilities – a worrying choice, so soon after the high-profile court case about a scooter vs pedestrian crash right out front of AT HQ.
And then there’s the climate risk, too: failing to design for biking and scooting on Queen Street means neglecting an extremely valuable resource for a low-carbon city, in the form of all those people who choose two wheels over four for their inner-city trips.
I dunno, they’re also just a lovely lively part of a living city. Indicator species, like kids, out there diversifying our urban ecosystem, visible proof that it’s healthy and growing and maybe even flourishing.
Perhaps the current court imbroglio is another one of those blessings in disguise, in that it will give everyone pause for thought, so we can get things right for the most vulnerable modes as we move towards that excellent vision of a low-carbon public transport mall with people at the heart of it all.
For example, the boardwalk extensions are handsome and were absolutely vital on High Street where the footpath was ludicrously narrow. But are they what the bottom end of Queen Street needs?
Could we not just use more attractive planters to protect the existing swing space for biking and scooting, maybe smooth out a few of the zig-zags around the loading zones, and roll a similar approach up Queen Street? Whatever did happen to the planters from the interim Quay Street cycleway?
Imagine a protected lane all the way up Queen Street to the fancy new double-decker bike parking unit at Aotea Square. As Matt pointed out, it’s pretty ironic that there’s officially no safe all-ages bike route to the bike shelter (unless you’re bold enough to ride amongst the buses).
Have you seen our brand new handy place to park your bike by Aotea Square?
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) May 3, 2021
Thing is, the two-wheelers are here – and they’re not going away. You really have to hope someone has been collecting the data. Given the growing number and variety of people on two wheels in town, it’s astonishing that there’s been no coherent plan to make sure bikes and scooters are safe from buses, and pedestrians are safe from bikes and scooters.
Refuse to build it and they'll still come pic.twitter.com/QD2eqlgpdQ
— geogoose (@geogoose) April 17, 2021
So, whatever happens with the Queen Street standoff in the next few weeks, the plan will need to actively embrace – and make dedicated space for – active transport as well as public transport, in a way that looks and feels good. There’s a wee way to go yet, but we’re getting there.
Because the good news is, rumours of the death of downtown are greatly exaggerated. As per this epic thread, and as per my photos above, people will keep coming to town, by bus, by train, on feet and on wheels.
And they’re especially attracted to the new square, Te Komititanga – which, come to think of it, is lined by shops, free of cars, abundantly well-served by public transport and bike paths, and capacious and comfortable for walking, biking, and scooting. There’s probably a clue in that, eh?
Queen Street retailers take note: The most successful part of your street is the northernmost end which has completely removed all vehicle traffic and parking, and which is completely surrounded by public transport, pedestrian lanes and cycleways.
— Nicolas Reid (@Nicolas_Reid) May 4, 2021